Danish star Natalie Madueño talks ‘Follow the Money’

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Read our interview with the Head of Legal at Energreen.

Follow the Money is a tense new crime drama starring Bo Larsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Natalie Madueño, and Esben Smed Jensen. After a corpse is discovered with a connection to one of Energreen’s wind farms in Denmark, the police turn their attention to the environmentally-friendly energy giant. Detective Mads (Larsen) suspects the organisation’s CEO Sander (Lie Kaas) is not as innocent as he portrays himself to be. At the same time, lawyer Claudia (Madueño) is tasked to investigate the insider trading scandal internally. However, her motivations see her aligned with Sander and promoted to being his Head of Legal. Can Claudia rise to the top without suffering the consequences of the corruption around her?

We spoke with the rising Danish star Natalie Madueño to find out more about Claudia and if the ends to her character justify the means in this fresh Nordic Noir thriller.

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Claudia is very ambitious and can seem impulsive with her actions. The way she is introduced from the first episode illustrates Claudia as a very cut-throat person. “I think the duality in her character attracted me to her,” Madueño shares. “On one side she is very ambitious, determined, and wants to have a career so she can move up the Energreen hierarchy. While on the other side, she is a warm, caring, and loving mother to her son, Bertram. I think these characteristics combined makes Claudia very complex.”

Follow the Money delivers an alternative insight into the mystery when compared to other crime shows. “I think that one of the big differences between Follow the Money and other Nordic Noir shows is that it is not a series about who did it. It is a series about how did they do it. I find it very interesting to concentrate on that aspect of it so the story can be seen from an alternative point-of-view.”

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It felt like Claudia’s investigation into insider trading would be a sub-plot kept hidden from her CEO for a longer part of the narrative, making her a mole. However, she decides to be upfront with Sander almost immediately in episode one, as well as with the fraud squad in episode three. “I think this is reflected by her character; Claudia is very sharp and she’s not afraid to do anything,” admits Madueño. “I would say she’s got balls! [LAUGHS] I love the fact that there’s not very much that she can’t do. I love that the writers have created a character who can do whatever she wants to do. The consequences will come later but I love the fact that she’s limitless in some way.”

The role of Claudia catches the viewer off-guard and you are never sure how she’s going to react, yet she doesn’t seem irrational with her ruthlessness. Claudia behaves in such a calm and calculated manner and projects an image of control. Although, due to her promotion to a senior position as the Head of Legal at Energreen, sometimes her expressions give her away to let us know she is out of her depth. “I love playing her because of that,” exclaims Madueño. “When I read that script I would ask myself, “What’s she going to do there? Oh, she can do that?!” She is extremely controlled and she knows what she’s doing. Claudia is rational and she is a thinker but she doesn’t think about the consequences that catch up with her. Claudia puts herself in situations where she knows where she’s going but the outcome is not always considered.”

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The environmental impact of wind farm energy in Denmark is an interesting theme to include as the veneer for crime. Madueño discusses her knowledge on the current landscape of renewable energy in Denmark. “I knew a lot beforehand because my mother has always been interested in the environment and sustainable energy,” says Madueño. “I was taught a lot about that from home. However, when I got the part I had to read a lot about it. I also had to research into law as that was very new to me.” However, there were challenges to research and to play a convincing lawyer. “There were many challenging parts about playing the role. I think getting the corporate language and legal terminology to sound natural was difficult in the beginning. I wanted to make sure I understood all of these terms and corporate structures which I didn’t know anything about. So there were a lot of new things to learn.”

Many modern Nordic Noir heroines endeavour to balance a fractured home life, as does Claudia who is a single mother, separated from her partner. Claudia’s character in the Nordic Noir series puts her in a position to show that it is not a problem for her to be a single mother with a child,” describes Madueño. “I love that having a child is not an issue for her in any way. Being a successful career woman and also having a child is, in her head, not a problem at all. Whereas, in reality, it turns out to be a bit different and surprises her at times. She never tries to rationalise it or has ever thought about quitting her job. It just isn’t a possibility for her and I like her for that. I think that is what many women today struggle with. It doesn’t have to be the case of either having a child or having a career. It can be that way but it doesn’t have to be. Of course, it becomes an issue at some point when you work 60 to 70 hours a week. I think other Nordic Noir series have shown that in some way, for example in Borgen (2010-2013). To the character of Claudia it is not a problem.

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There are some sweet moments shared between Claudia and Bertram when she can balance her work and family life by stepping away and sitting down to a quick video game. “Do I play the PlayStation? [LAUGHS] In the series I do! In real life, no!” exclaims Madueño. “We practiced the day before and played a lot of FIFA but no more than that! I like how Claudia can be sat at a table doing her job but the minute she realises her son needs her she is there with him. I think that is what makes her human. What makes her a likable person is that she is there for her child as much as she can be in her way. Some might think Claudia is a bad mother and some might think she is doing exactly what a child needs from their mother. We leave that up to the audience to decide.”

An interesting symbiotic relationship develops between Claudia and Sander that evolves when Claudia is exposed to what lengths Sander is capable of. This can be seen when Claudia accompanies Sander on a business trip, during a presentation of a superconductor to potential investors in Abu Dhabi in episode three. “I think Claudia very much looks up to him. He is kind of a guru in his field. She is very interested in him from a professional angle but as the series progress it turns into something more,” Madueño explains. “Due to the idea of him in her head, she comes across as very naïve about what is going on with the company. She has a self-deception when it comes to Sander because of her attraction which blinds her to the type of person he is.”

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Viewers are used to the muted tones of the Nordic Noir palate. Therefore, the bright contrast to Abu Dhabi stood out even more as another filming location for the show. “Abu Dhabi was great and it was chaos! We had to shoot so many scenes in so few days. It was raining for the first time in a few years when we were there. The day we had to film outside was, of course, the day it was raining! [LAUGHS] It was wonderful and fascinating to learn about Masdar City but, unfortunately, we didn’t go there.”

Most of the actress’s scenes are alongside Nikolaj Lie Kaas, whose credits include the Department Q adaptations from The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013), to the recent A Conspiracy of Faith (2016). Natalie Madueño talks about collaborating with the star. “It was a pleasure! He is an amazing actor and he is one of the greatest actors we have in Denmark,” praises Madueño. “I hadn’t even graduated from drama school when I was cast in the series so I was completely green and new to this! He was so great. He helped me when I needed help, gave me advice when I needed it, and he knew when to give me space. He was a pleasure to work with.”

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Some of Claudia’s stand-out scenes are when she is being assertive and takes charge in her new position: firing the insider traders and speaking with the police to acknowledge the crime, in an effort to save the company’s reputation. “My favourite scenes were from working with the director Per Fly. He doesn’t rehearse before we start shooting and we did a lot of improvisation and I really liked that!” hails Madueño. “I thought it would be scary as hell when he said: “Let’s just do it!” [LAUGHS] I loved working with him and it tuned out that many of the scenes that were improvised were actually the best ones to perform. One of the scenes that is mostly improvised is when Claudia’s ex-husband Steen comes to see her and announces he is going to move to Paris with their son. We had some of the lines from the script that we had to include but the rest was improv. I really like working this way and I also like strictly sticking to the script. I just love Per’s technique.”

A key scene of the series for Claudia is when she has to visit the factory in Thullander. Here she comes face-to-face with the ramifications of what it takes to get ahead in the company, almost as if Sander is testing her loyalty and limits. It felt like this was a turning point for her character’s motivations. “When Claudia is standing there and the head of the factory has to make a speech to his workers to tell them the factory has to be closed down,” recalls Madueño. “That is a major turning point for her as she witnesses her choices and the consequences of her actions, even though Claudia is just obeying her boss.”

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Follow the Money includes the use of English dialogue and locations such as London and Abu Dhabi. As well as looking at this in a literal sense, the varied locations can reflect the global appeal and translation of Nordic Noir and drama series to an international fan base. “There is a special style created by the cinematographer; the dark landscapes and visual themes. There is a whole feeling to the series,” Madueño explains. “The writers combine interesting characters with very human themes, such as greed and financial corruption, which we can all relate to but is distant to us at the same time. I think the combination of all of these concepts appeals to the audience.”

After the first season of the crime drama, what can we expect to see Natalie Madueño in next? “We’re working on the second season of Follow the Money right now – currently filming episodes seven and eight! When that is finished I will be having a little break before shooting a movie in the spring.”

Words and interview by Antony Smith

Continue watching the series with double episodes on Saturday from 9pm on BBC Four.

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Follow the Money is released on DVD & Blu-ray Monday 25th April by Nordic Noir & Beyond